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US Releases 18 Guantanamo Detainees - 2003-03-25


Eighteen Afghan men held for months at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were released to their families in Afghanistan on Tuesday. Most of the men say they were well treated at Guantanamo Bay, but they also say they are angry they were held for so long.

All of the 18 men who were returned to Afghanistan by U.S. authorities say there was no need for them to be taken to Guantanamo Bay. Most were detained after Taleban forces collapsed more than a year ago, and most spent months in jail in Afghanistan before being transferred to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

The men are the second group of detainees to be returned to Afghanistan. Last October three other detainees were released by U.S. authorities.

Murtaza, who like many Afghans uses only one name, says he was interrogated frequently about alleged ties to the Taleban and al-Qaida but he said his interrogators did not use excessive force.

Murtaza said all his interrogators ever did was ask repeated questions. He said he was never beaten but claims other detainees were mistreated.

Of the 18 detainees, 16 say they were well treated, but two others complained about being held in small cages and not being allowed to pray at times of their choosing.

U.S. officials reject any charges of mistreatment. Colonel Roger King, the spokesman for coalition forces at Bagram air base north of Kabul, said all of the detainees are treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention, even though the U.S. does not regard the Guantanamo Bay detainees as prisoners of war, but as unlawful combatants, who can be held indefinitely without trial.

"I would say we treat the people under our control in a humane fashion. And while they are not prisoners of war who would fall under the Geneva Convention, we use the Geneva Convention as a guideline for everything we do in keeping these folks. We allow visits by the International Red Cross, we use humane treatment, we provide them with a copy of the Koran, if they want that. We feed them and we provide them shelter," Colonel King said.

U.S. officials said the 18 were released after it was determined they did not pose a threat. Six hundred sixty detainees are currently held at Guantanamo Bay. Nearly 11,000 coalition troops remain in Afghanistan as part of the effort to fight the remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida.